The British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins is often described as an early modern poet ahead of his Victorian time. This is perhaps why, while he wrote “Pied Beauty” in 1877, in common with most of his other poetry, it was first published twenty-nine years after his death. It appeared in the first collected edition of his poems, Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, edited by Robert Bridges (1918). The poem subsequently appeared in the second complete edition of Hopkins’s poetry, published in 1930. As of 2006, “Pied Beauty” was available in Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Major Works, edited by Catherine Phillips (1986).
“Pied Beauty” is one of the first poems that Hopkins wrote in the so-called sprung rhythm that he evolved, based on the rhythms of Anglo-Saxon and ancient Welsh poetry. His aim was to approximate the rhythms and style of normal speech, albeit speech infused with a religious ecstasy and enthusiasm that are characteristics of his poetry. The poem also embodies Hopkins’s innovative use of condensed syntax and alliteration. It is written in the form of a curtal or shortened sonnet, another of Hopkins’s stylistic inventions. Thematically, the poem is a simple hymn of praise to God for the “dappled things” of creation. God is seen as being beyond change but as generating all the variety and opposites that manifest in the ever-changing world. Hopkins is best known as a nature poet and a religious poet, and “Pied Beauty” perfectly exemplifies both these aspects of his work.
Stanza 1, lines 1–2; stanza 2, line 11
“Pied Beauty” opens and closes with variants of the two mottoes of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), of which Hopkins was a member. As cited by Peter Milward in A Commentary on the Sonnets of G. M. Hopkins, the two mottoes are: “Ad majorem Dei gloriam (To the greater glory of God) and Laus Deo semper (Praise be to God always).” Milward points out that it is customary for pupils in Jesuit schools to write an abbreviated form of the former motto, A. M. D. G., at the beginning of each written exercise, and the latter motto, L. D. S., at the end. Thus Hopkins appears to be treating his poem as an exercise in the Jesuit tradition.
Line 1 begins a hymn of praise to God for creating “dappled things” that embody the “Pied Beauty” of the title. These are things of mottled or variegated hue that display variety and pairs of opposites (such as light and dark). The whole of stanza 1, the sestet of the curtal sonnet, consists of a number of such things. Line 2 gives two examples of dappled things. In a simile, the poet likens “skies of couple-colour” to a “brinded” or striped cow, since both are of two contrasting colors.
Stanza 1, lines 3–4
The poet turns his attention to the river, where trout swim, their skins showing rose-colored markings “all in stipple,” meaning spots such as an artist might create by using small touches of the brush, a technique known as stippling. Then the poet draws attention to the windfalls from chestnut trees. When chestnuts hit the ground, their dull brown shells break open to reveal reddish-brown nuts within, which the poet likens in a metaphor to coals that break open in a fire and glow red. He notes the wings of finches, which are of varied colors.
Stanza 1, lines 5–6
The poet broadens his vision to take in the landscape. This is not an untouched, virgin landscape, but a landscape worked and shaped by man: it is “plotted and pieced,” meaning divided into sections or plots. A “fold” is an enclosure for sheep; “fallow” refers to a field left for a period of rest between crops; and “plough” refers to a field tilled in preparation for crop planting. All these references include, by...
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